The efforts of the Union government to rejig the entrance examination to Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) have led to controversy. The issue has been framed in terms of elite control vs mass access to these institutions. There are echoes of the problem elsewhere as well: while India is grappling with ways to administer education and institutions in a manner that can provide much greater access to youth, students in the US and the UK are struggling to cope with the cost of their established, widely appreciated higher education system.
These might seem like different problems. But they are merely different facets of the same issue: how can high-quality educational institutions anywhere in the world scale up without compromising on quality or imposing unbearable cost on students?
After years of experimentation, it now looks like a clutch of US universities are on the verge of finally cracking an education conundrum: how to offer sophisticated online learning cheaply, meaningfully and reliably.
IIT Kharagpur. File photo
Last month Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Harvard University came together to announce edX: an online platform that will offer courses from both universities complete with video lesson segments, embedded quizzes, immediate feedback, student-ranked questions and answers, online laboratories and student-paced learning.
For years online learning has been poised on the fringes of education delivery. Entities such as the Khan Academy, MIT and even several Indian universities have previously posted study material and video lectures. But the idea of interaction, grading and evaluation has remained elusive.
If edX can get that aspect correct, then the implications for online learning are immense, especially by delinking the teaching and evaluation process. Why shouldn’t a student in Thrissur learn computer science on edX and then take University of Calicut examinations for certification? That way the local university outsources the hardest bits to edX, while merely focusing on a more scalable element: world-class evaluation techniques.
If anything, technological solutions of the kind represented by edX can bypass the bruising political debates about quality compromises and the politics of education that surround the changes being contemplated in how students get into IITs. Indian universities and educational institutions will be better off if they try exploring online platforms.
Is there a technological fix for access to higher learning institutes in India? Tell us at firstname.lastname@example.org